San Jose State and Nevada head into this week's matchup in Reno with a lot at stake for both teams. The Spartans (5-4, 3-2 Mountain West) are one win away from bowl eligibility with three games to play. Meanwhile, Nevada (6-2, 3-1) is trying to keep pace with Fresno State in the Mountain West's West Division and is looking for payback against San Jose State. The Wolf Pack dropped a 30-20 decision to the Spartans last December in San Jose.
Nick Nash scampered his way into the San Jose State record books last Saturday as he broke the all-time rushing record for a quarterback in a 27-21 win over Wyoming. Nash led the team in rushing with 112 yards on 11 carries, including a 48-yard gain. In addition, Nash was steady throwing the football, completing 11 of 22 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Harmon (13 tackles) and Cade Hall (2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for a loss) led the way on defense, which also produced a pair of interceptions.
Meanwhile, Nevada cruised past UNLV 51-20 last Friday night at home to maintain possession of the Fremont Cannon. Carson Strong threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. He shared the wealth, spreading his 37 completions (on 49 attempts) to nine different players. The Wolf Pack also picked off Rebels quarterback Cameron Friel three times, returning two of them for touchdowns. Nevada completely dominated the line of scrimmage, sacking Friel five times and holding the Rebels to just 10 rushing yards.
San Jose State at Nevada
Kickoff: Sat, Nov. 6 at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Nevada -9.5
When San Jose State Has the Ball
The Spartans must establish the run if they are going to compete in this game. Nash has the mobility necessary to slow down the Nevada defensive line that loves to get after the quarterback. Look for some zone-read plays for Nash early to ignite the running game. Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson will have to chip in as well. Nevens leads San Jose State with 583 rushing yards and six touchdowns, but both he and Robinson are averaging less than 4.5 yards per carry.
The Wolf Pack will want to force Nash to try and beat them with his arm. When he does throw, chances are he will be looking for tight end Derrick Deese Jr., who is sixth in the Mountain West with 634 receiving yards. The problem is that throwing the ball plays into one of Nevada's defensive strengths, creating turnovers. The Wolf Pack are first in the conference in turnover margin (+9) thanks to the 16 they have forced, including nine interceptions (tied for second). This defense also is capable of making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Nevada leads the nation with 33 sacks and averages nearly seven tackles for a loss per game. Tristan Nichols is second in the FBS with 9.5 sacks while Dom Peterson and Sam Hammond each have five. The Spartans have done a pretty good job in pass protection (16 sacks allowed), so this is definitely a matchup that bears watching.
When Nevada Has the Ball
Strong did not put up huge numbers in last season's meeting with San Jose State, throwing for 260 yards and a touchdown while getting sacked four times. He no doubt will be looking for better results this time. The Spartans probably won't be able to completely shut down the Wolf Pack's passing attack, not with as many weapons as Strong has to throw to, but the key will be limiting the big plays. Justin Lockhart and Romeo Doubs are both averaging more than 13 yards per catch, while tight end Cole Turner has a team-high eight touchdown receptions. San Jose State did a good job of containing Nevada's pass catchers last season. The longest pass play went for 22 yards.
The Wolf Pack don't run the ball a lot. In fact, only two teams in the nation (WKU, Mississippi State) average fewer carries than their 24.9 per game. But expect Toa Taua (5.5 ypc, 4 TDs) to get a few handoffs in an effort to keep the Spartans' defense honest. San Jose State falls in the middle of the pack among Mountain West teams when it comes to the four major defensive categories, but the Spartans have surrendered 14 touchdown passes while recording just three interceptions. San Jose State needs to force Strong and Co. to methodically drive down the field rather than pick up yards in big chunks. If he gets into a rhythm early, it could be a long night for the SJSU defense.
Nevada is at home where the Wolf Pack are undefeated (4-0) thus far. San Jose State enters with a little more momentum having won two in a row, but Nevada is coming off of a big win over its in-state rival. But for all of the attention the Wolf Pack offense gets with Strong leading the way, it's the defense that will be the difference-maker for this game. Nevada's D will make things hard on Nash and bottle up the Spartans' running game. Strong will be content with what the San Jose State defense gives him early before finding more holes in coverage as the game goes on. The Wolf Pack break open a close game in the second half to pull away and set up a huge showdown next week at San Diego State.
Prediction: Nevada 38, San Jose State 23
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